Now, it’s no secret that I think the Dear America reboots are nowhere near the same quality as the original flavour—even though the original series was plenty flawed on its own. The new ones have tried to cram in so much drama and excitement to compete with everything else on the market that they ended up losing the charm of the originals, which was “slice of life history with relatable details about every day set during interesting periods or events.” They don’t need over-involved plots and manufactured drama! Generally the drama of the historical event or period is plenty without shoehorning in lots of other crap! Anyway, this is one of if not the worst offender in that regard. These reboots also tend to dump the more realistic diary format in favour of a thrilling story, but that doesn’t read well in the format. Yeah, there’s a few nods here and there, but these would be mostly just as good stories with a traditional novel format. So that’s where I sit on the reboots: fine stories, but a poor match for the format.
A City Tossed and Broken: The Diary of Minnie Bonner, San Francisco, California, 1906, Judy Blundell, 2013.
(If you are a longtime reader, Judy Blundell is the same author of the truly dreadful Brides of Wildcat County series, so that should tell you exactly where we’re headed.)
Anyway, this story bears a lot of similarities to a Dear Canada book, so we’ll discuss them in tandem with that one coming next week. Natural disasters and dark family secrets is a pretty potent combination, but it falls flat here, which is majorly disappointing.
Minnie Bonner, our surly protagonist, is the daughter of a long-suffering mother and gambling father in Pennsylvania. Her mother has just arranged for Minnie to begin as a lady’s maid to a wealthy family, since her own family is about to lose their tavern (due to Mr. Bonner’s gambling problem—thanks, Dad! What a peach you must be!). Even from the very first entry it’s very clear this story is not a good fit for the diary format, with long strings of dialogue and long paragraphs. It doesn’t ring anywhere close to realistic! OK, I’m done complaining. (That’s a lie.)
I have long said that Dear Canada books are by far more depressing than their Dear America counterparts. This is my first foray into Australia-centric books, and if it’s any indicator, Australia has both Canada and America beat all hollow.
Transported: The Diary of Elizabeth Harvey, Australia 1790¸Goldie Alexander, 2000.
My edition is the UK “My Story” edition, but this same book was released in the My Australian Story series under the title Surviving Sydney Cove in much the same way that a few of the Dear America books were re-released in the UK under the My Story tag. Anyway, I have been assured that the text is the same and only the cover/title have been changed, and as it happens I like this cover better, aesthetically.
Also I’ll freely and fully admit that my knowledge of Australian history is extremely scanty (I feel like I start every review of any book that’s not about Canadian or American history with that disclaimer, but it’s especially true here) but I do know enough to know that the first white settlers in Australia basically had an extremely rough ride of it. And good God, nowhere is that more evident than this book. I was going to say “it’s like the story of the Pilgrims except most of them died” but….half of the Pilgrims did die, and I think we all know how Jamestown turned out. (Hint: Any time your Wikipedia article has a subheading called “The Starving Time,” it’s not a good time.)
The last few books have been pretty good so I figured we’d go back down to earth with a horrible book that made me want to gouge out my own eyes.
Cassie¸ Vivian Schurfranz, 1985.
It’s not a Sunfire book if I’m not screaming incoherently at some point, right? Look at the cover and tell me if that’s not some appallingly racist trash right there. This literally looks like a white girl dressed up in a poorly-made “Indian” Halloween costume. Literally the most blonde, blue-eyed, cheerleader-type model they could find! And her two love interests look suspiciously similar. Everything about this book is already making me upset.
To begin with, the entire premise of this book is crap. “Blonde Cassie Stevens” (which, I’m not kidding, is how she’s introduced on the back cover) was captured by the Iroquois at the age of four and adopted into their tribe. But despite living with them for more than ten years and fully adapting to their ways and language, she’s totally ready to abandon them all for the first white guy to come along. She meets him on page THREE. She’s just chilling having a bath in the river when this fur trapper comes along and drags her out of the water, and she’s just so taken by him that she can’t stop herself from chatting. Also never fully explained: she was taken at the age of four, and perfectly fluent in Iroquois, but apparently has no problem speaking freely and colloquially with this white guy, Joshua. They sort of hand-wave it away by explaining that Cassie was used to chatting with the tribe’s interpreter in English. But…if you stop learning English at age four, aside from occasional conversations, how good is it really going to be? And she has absolutely zero problems.
Today is a special Election Day edition of Young Adult Historical Vault, in honour of my own right to vote! And for all other American women. Go vote. Exercise your rights that women worked so hard to get. And a twofer in Thematic Weeks, because Friday is Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day, and this book is also about the First World War. I’m knocking them out all over the place here.
A Time For Courage: The Suffragette Diary of Kathleen Bowen, Washington D.C., 1917, Kathryn Lasky, 2002.
Kat is a thirteen-year-old, fairly wealthy girl in Washington, whose whole family is politically active. Her mother and older sister and aunt are active in the suffrage efforts, but Kat just feels kind of blah. She’s not a good student (I do love a story about a poor student! They’re not the norm!), she hangs out with her best friend and cousin, Alma, and she likes to go to the drugstore for sodas and ice cream. I like Kat. We could hang out. Alma’s father, Kat’s uncle Bayard, is rabidly against women’s rights, and kind of a dick. Not kind of a dick, a major dick. My senses, honed by reading literally hundreds of these books, are telling me that Bayard is going to cause some trouble.
Kat’s mother is friendly with Alice Paul, the secretary of the Women’s Party, and consequently gets to meet some of the important movers and shakers there along with her mother and aunt and cousin. This infuriates her uncle to the point where he and Kat’s aunt are having pretty bad marital problems. Kat’s father, Dr. Bowen, is infinitely more supportive of his own wife’s efforts in the suffragette movement, even if he thinks she goes overboard. Especially with the picket line the Women’s Party starts directly outside the White House. Kat and Alma sew banners and bring soup and hot coffee to the women on the line, since it’s January, but other than that she’s not allowed to participate.
I had about zero memory of this book. I know I must have read all the Dear America books at some point in my misspent (not) youth, but upon rereading this book I realized I didn’t remember a damn thing about it. Who knew? And it was quite good!
Valley of the Moon: The Diary of Maria Rosalia de Milagros, Sonoma Valley, Alta California, 1846, Sherry Garland, 2001.
I’m also embarrassed to say just how far I got into this book before realizing this takes place around San Francisco, since apparently the Sonoma Valley is in the Bay Area. (I grew up in the Midwest and never set foot in California until earlier this year, so my California geography is limited to “LA is in the south and San Francisco is in the northern part???” without too much other nuance. To say the least.) And I’m confident that if I knew even a tiny bit about California history besides the obvious, I would have figured out right from the cover that this is a book about John Fremont and the Bear Flag Republic. Who knew? Not me!
But it doesn’t matter anyway, because the book is great and well worth reading even if you’re like me and completely ignorant about Californian history. Although weirdly, my used copy was clearly well-loved and filled with some stranger’s cookie crumbs, which at least gave me the nostalgic feel of getting a stack of library books only to discover at least one was full of some other kid’s dirty thumbprints and peanut butter smudges. Rosalia here is an orphan and servant in the home of the Medina family, a wealthy ranching family in the Sonoma Valley. She’s half Indian and half Spanish, as is her younger brother Domingo, and they’ve been with the family for almost ten years, staying with Lupita the cook and Gregorio, who oversees the men who tend the ranch.